Category: Restaurants

We Didn’t Go Away…We Were Busy Getting Stronger

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This spot has been quiet since bitching about the ineptitude of Mankato motorists and the police officers that are usually eager to generate revenue from their transgressions. For that, I offer exactly zero apologies.

In the interest of brevity (for your sake) and sanity (my own), we’re going to get back up to speed with a numbered breakdown of rant-worthy material. Here’s what’s been brewing behind the scenes:

Regarding the Past

  1. The Mankato Free Press issued their Best of 2015 Reader’s Poll last April, which was promptly skewered for being wrongheaded and shitty. (If the NBA and NHL can’t get fan voting right, the odds of a small city comprised of uncultured, quasi-suburban white people getting their votes correct are pretty abysmal.) At the end of that post, I promised to offer up a real-ass, unsnarky redjacket version of Mankato’s Best of 2015 at the close of, well, 2015.
  2. I didn’t.
  3. There’s a reason for that. I was planning on using the Free Press’ article featuring the winners as a template, making some soft counterpoints and–hopefully–agreeing with some of the selections. Unfortunately for just about everyone involved, the Free Press brain trust published the winners in Mankato Magazine. Which means that their hyper-specific target audience–people without smartphones in waiting rooms–were the only ones privy to the victors.
  4. Since I don’t frequent the DMV or the YMCA men’s locker room, I never came across the final results, and the response piece died.
  5. I’m sure it would’ve been fun, especially considering that Free Press readers voted for Erbert and Gerbert’s over Tandem Bagels for “best sandwich shop.” But…
  6. …it’s pretty easy to tell people what’s up without preaching. Pro tip: cut out the hilltop entirely and do your thing in downtown, Old Town, and Lower North exclusively.
  7. Furthermore, this 10 Best Restaurants list from The Culture Trip is pretty dead-on, rendering any commentary on these pages kinda irrelevant. MOVING ON…

 

Regarding the Present

  1. The Mankato music scene isn’t strong enough to warrant regular updates here, which is why output has slowed.
  2. The reopening of the What’s Up Lounge, hailed by out-of-touch paid writers as a saving grace, hasn’t really made a noticeable impact, and it has failed to become a destination where people actually want to spend their time.
  3. Furthermore, their business strategy seems to be head-to-head competition with Buster’s for has-been/never-will radio rock market share; Buster’s has responded by booking AARON CARTER, proving that capitalism is a sham and that everyone always loses.
  4. Benderz is still awful.
  5. There haven’t been any cool cycling stories to tell because it’s February and February sucks. (Well, Stupor Bowl was okay, I guess.)

 

Regarding the Future

  1. The first print edition of RJKT will hit the streets within the week, featuring an interview with Fury Things amidst a 16-page preview of Midwest Art Catalyst’s Post-Holiday Extravaganza 9.

 

We’re gonna get physical.

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AND we’re going to cross-post the articles here, so don’t stray. We’re only getting started.

See you next week, Mankato.

 

The Free Press’ Best of Mankato 2015 Poll: Projected Winners

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Well, folks, we’ve finally arrived at that crucial time for compiling best-of-the-year lists: Spring.

The Mankato Free Press has released its Best of Mankato 2015 poll, and while the list of categories is certainly exhaustive, the nominations seem rather arbitrary.

For instance, NaKato is nominated for breakfast, yet, perplexingly, not lunch or “hamburger and french fries.” Also, there’s a “fast food” category, pitting the likes of Wendy’s and Burger King against local establishments.

Additionally, The Wine Cafe’s Wine Rack offshoot was somehow left off the liquor store list, and upstart pubs and eateries such as The Bicker Inn, Ummie’s, and the Garden of Eat’n go totally unmentioned, while Taco Bell gets a nod under “Mexican cuisine.”

Curious as to why this list is/was so haphazard, at least in its initial form? Well, scope this nifty little note at the bottom:

“Don’t see your pick? Nominate your favorite below, let us know which category and we’ll get it added!”

Ah! That’s the reason why the ballot has ballooned since the first draft of this post.

What could be more professional than letting your readers compile your cultural data for you? And after they’ve already placed all of their votes?

Certainly not predicting the victors in an overly-cynical blog post.

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Here’s what we’re banking on the voters of Mankato choosing as their Best of 2015, in various categories:

BEST DINING

Breakfast – Perkins

Look, we’re just banking on sheer numbers here. No establishment so wholeheartedly captures such diverse demographics: Blue-haired octogenarians that need to kill time between trips to Menards; the coveted 18-to-34 pisshammered-at-three-a.m. crowd that cares little about their unthawed, barely-cooked eggs Benedict; youth-group teens that are trying their damnedest to fill their free time with anything but what their bodies are telling them to do (namely, ingest drugs and have sex).

It’s almost unfair.

Coffee Shop – Caribou Coffee

Give Minnesotans some credit. Even the most milquetoast of sprawl-shoppers will gravitate to a homegrown chain. And, honestly, we’re the only ones that can stomach Caribou’s 800-calorie concoctions. It’s like Dairy Queen…for breakfast!

Hamburger and French Fries – Culver’s

However, we’re not above sampling fare offered by our exotic neighbors to the east, who are the only ones with the guile to put butter on a goddamned hamburger and serve it with freaking cheese curds.

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(Presented without comment.)

Ice Cream/Frozen Yogurt – Cold Stone Creamery

Because it’s not a treat unless it makes you feel like dying.

Fast Food – Chipotle Mexican Grill

Seriously, have you been to this place at any hour of the day? It’s hey-there’s-a-new-restaurant-in-Mankato panic mode ALL THE TIME. The shine never wore off.

Plus, it’s right next to Wal-Mart.

Pizza – Papa Murphy’s

I mean, why dine out and interact with other humans when you can cook someone else’s food?

Don’t forget to stop by the nearest Redbox on the way back to your cardboard mansion in Skyline. Night At The Museum 7 just dropped.

Steak – Applebee’s

Barring the inclusion of Benderzzzzzzzzzz’s TUESDAY STEAK NIGHT, Applebee’s saline-injected sirloin will reign not only by virtue of its sumptuousness, but its affordability. Again, the Perkins formula is at play: If you can nail down the high school / Social Security recipient ends of the spectrum, you’re gold.

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If those faux grill marks don’t speak to your soul, your soul is probably a dick.

Sub / Sandwich Shop – Jersey Mike’s

This will win because, somehow, it was listed twice on the ballot. This could be because there are two locations (both located in strip malls adjacent to superior fast food outposts), but it’s most likely due to the fact that the Free Press’ editors are terrible.

Mexican Cuisine – Taco Bell

One of the best things about the southwestern Minnesota is the glut of quality Mexican restaurants, but since college students can only afford Baja Blast and ergonomically-designed burritos after they’ve spent their allowance at South Street Saloon, this should win out.

Plus, it’s right next to Wal-Mart.

Asian Cuisine – Leeann Chin

Sure, getting a Leeann Chin in the mall was a decade late and twelve bucks short, but we FINALLY GOT ONE. (“Just like Rochester!“)

Italian Cuisine – Olive Garden

Mankato’s Italian game is bleak, son. BLEAK.

The Neighbor’s might put up a bit of a fight, but it’s crazy expensive. Furthermore, it’s marooned in that weird part of west Mankato where the town just kinda ends.

Wings – Buffalo Wild Wings

Nothing tempers the indignity of smashing your face full of barbeque sauce like being served by a bunch of depressed millennials forced to wear the leftover football jerseys from gym class scrimmages.

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This is what a B.A. in Business Management will get you in 2015, kids.

Bakery – Panera Bread

One time, I was tripping on acid at 7 a.m. in Nicollet Mall and couldn’t get into a Panera Bread bathroom because they had a keypad on the door that prevented homeless people from using it unless they entered a code from a valid receipt, so I bought a bagel and only finished half of it.

Also, if it’s good enough for Mark Kozelek’s dad, it’s probably good enough for Mankato.

Buffet – Pizza Ranch

Remember when you were a kid, and your parents hated taking you to the pizza buffet? It wasn’t because they were terrible parents. It was because it was loud, packed with screaming kids, and the food sucked.

But portions were unlimited, so they made concessions. However, you ultimately realized that the opportunity to play Pit Fighter on an arcade cabinet wasn’t worth the ensuing domestic dispute, and the dessert pizza really, really dried you out.

Date Night – Red Lobster

Look, we know you’re on a budget, and your date is probably going to want to throw down on a huge platter of crab and lobster, so you need to fill up on those free Cheddar Bay Biscuits if you have any hope of pulling off the “wining” part of the equation.

Happy Hour – Number 4

Behold! The best place to crush discounted drinks (that are actually the same price as regular drinks everywhere else in Mankato) amidst an ambiance of bizarre condescension and glitter.

Sports Bar – Rounders

Of all the places in Mankato that have lots of televisions and Bud Light with olives, this place has the most televisions and Bud Light with olives.

Patio Dining – Blue Bricks

“Dining” isn’t really something that one does at Blue Bricks, unless that’s the new euphemism for “smoking cigarettes with dangerously-drunk college students that haven’t yet mastered the art of social interaction.”

But the chicken sandwiches are pretty good.

Locally Owned Restaurant – HOW IS THIS A SEPARATE CATEGORY

Okay, this is exhausting. I’m tapping out before we even escape the dining bracket, and I’m sure you are, too.

Up next? The Mankato-area businesses that should take home the championship belts, with runners-up included.

See you soon, Mankato.

 

 

 

 

 

Springtime in Kato, Part Two: Strava and Scotch Eggs

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It happens every year. EVERY. YEAR.

There’s this fleeting rush of springtime warmth in March, a brief period where we Minnesotans can bask in sixty-degree weather for a couple days like normal humans. We’re lulled into a false sense of comfort, only to get smacked in the coccyx by more ice and more snow and more cold and more bullshit.

But that springwave could’ve been for good this year, right? Right? I mean, most people that aren’t chairmen of United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works yet funded by British Petroleum are kinda resigned to the fact that the planet is basically melting. It was at least feasible that we could’ve been gifted with an early spring. (And, yes, I know that climate and weather aren’t the same thing, but hope is blind. And deaf. And dumb. Very, very dumb.)

Anyway, this is the second (and final) post with the word “springtime” in the title, yet this morning’s commute was punctuated by mashing up an ice-glazed Lee Boulevard only to get freeze-spanked by a 17-degree windchill administered at 35 mph.

Want proof? Check my Strava profile, BRO.

For the uninitiated, Strava is basically the last.fm of cycling. Some people claim it’s the Facebook of cycling, but until it becomes the pulpit of choice for turncoat Gen X-ers with strident, not-really-racist-but-totally-racist opinions on Kanye West and state-deployed revenue generators, the last.fm comparison stands.

It works like this: Before you head out on a ride, you fire up the app (using One Tap Record, if you know what’s up) and your sweatshop-forged intelligent device will track your route, distance, and other precious statistics. Like how long it takes to get a six-pack of Lagunitas when you’re waiting for your girlfriend to finish an episode of the X-Files featuring Agent Doggett.

For some people, these things really matter. Personally, I find the idea of techifying an outdoor activity…gross-ish, at best

However, I’m a novice. I’ve only been pedaling daily for about 10 months. I ride a hybrid. And I try my damnedest to float in the neutral zone between insufferable hipster and insufferable Lycra sausage. I’m not the target market.

Put simply, I’m just a dude that rides a bike, same as I’m a dude that listens to grindcore and black metal. It’s just a thing that I like to do, not something that consumes my identity.

Strava is optimized for people that make cycling their identity. Take these nerds, for instance:

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You know who owns Lycra, dudes? The Koch brothers. I wonder how they feel about progressive infrastructure…?

They’re like a two-wheeled brutal death metal band. Clones to the bone.

So, while the majority of Strava users are wannabe racers and amateur triathletes puffed up with the baffling competitiveness of an “elite” beer-league softball squad, I’m using Strava solely to track my commuting mileage. I’ve been car-free for a few months now, and as we’re approaching bearable weather, my numbers are going to be skewed a bit with recreational rides. Thus, now is a good time to take a snapshot of practical mileage.

Including a small handful of 20 and 30 mile weekend excursions, my commuting numbers since late January look something like this:

Year-to-Date
Distance 579.5 mi
Time 54h 33m
Elev Gain 16,020 ft
Rides 112

 

Instead of being shocked at how much money I’m saving in gasoline expenses, the biggest revelation is how little time and distance is actually required to travel to crucial destinations in the Mankato area. While eliminating fossil fuel consumption is a huge bonus, in reality, the biggest money-dumps in Mankato car ownership are 1) monthly insurance payments, and 2) the inevitable yearly maintenance, regardless of your vehicle’s age.

Obviously, what is ideal for one individual isn’t universal. But is individual car ownership really worth the cost of convenience in a town that’s so accessible?

Until you detach yourself from the cultural norm of one-person-one-car culture (and this is a relatively new phenomenon, remember), it’s difficult to view this city’s adherence to car-centric transit as anything other than normal. But there’s nowhere in this town that can’t be accessed by bicycle in roughly half an hour.

Sure, you could save 10-ish minutes traveling by car. But you’ll spend that 20 bitching about other drivers and suffering through A Prairie Home Companion. It’ll suck.

"On the shores of the Minnesota River, Mankatooooooooozzzzzzzzzzzzzeeeee............"

“On the shores of the Minnesota-urm River-er-hm, Mankatooooooooozzzzzzzzzzzzz…………”

As I screamed previously, if our city’s leaders are going to field practical, forward-thinking approaches to infrastructure, they’re going to place a premium on data over anecdotes.

Thus, I’ll keep tracking my progress via Strava throughout 2015, plugging along at 12 mph in digital “competition” with people that insist on turning serene country roads into midlife-crisis racetracks.

That calorie-burn tracker will come in handy, though, ’cause at long last…THE SCOTCH EGG HAS RETURNED TO MANKATO.

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Now, this town lacks a lot of things: Tolerance. A dedicated music venue. Bike lanes. Italians that can cook. Criticism of our elected officials by the local press. But most egregiously, we couldn’t get a scotch egg around here for the better part of a decade.

Until now.

Nestled into a prime location behind Number 4 (which, despite an earlier observation, now sucks at brunch, too) and adjacent to a strip club, The Bicker Inn fills the glaring Irish pub void in Mankato’s bar/grill landscape.

Not only do they serve a pretty wicked scotch egg (though a tad lean on the sausage), but they also tap into an inexplicably ignored arena in Kato-area pub grub: The hot dog.

Every half-and-whole-assed kitchen in this town serves some combination of burgers, wings, chicken, burgers, and wings, yet somehow goes out of its way to avoid tubed meat. Not the Bicker Inn. Here, each specialty burger is also served as BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOG. And yes, you can get a scotch egg ON your bacon-wrapped hot dog, too.

Really, the only thing missing in this place is a shrine to “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, but I’m sure that’ll be on tap once he starches the heretofore unbeatable Jose Aldo and snatches the UFC featherweight championship.

".....aaaaaand NEW..."

“…..aaaaaand NEW…”

But I digress. Go to the Bicker Inn, and go there often. Sure, drink prices are semi-astronomical, but dammit, building a bar from scratch is tough business, and the BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOGS are only like eight bucks, side included.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to attempt to stave off this heart attack by riding my bicycle. See you in the streets, Mankato.

Merry springtime.

Garden of Eat’n, You’re A Gem

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Okay, I posted this photo on Facebook a couple few weeks back, but this place needs more love. Look at that blackboard. LOOK AT IT. This is how you eat lunch, people.

The Garden of Eat’n is tucked away in the desolate wasteland known as Commerce Drive, buried behind Big Dog Sports Cafe and completely obscured from streetside view. Sure, there’s a sign in the parking lot, but it’s totally dwarfed by the garish, gargantuan ERBERT & GERBERT’S screamer that oppresses Upper North’s lunchgoers.

And that’s troubling, because the Garden of Eat’n deserves more love than it’s currently dishing out. Upper North Mankato should be a haven for businesses catering to their ample lunch crowd, as there’s a high concentration of blue-collar Borg cubes in the area. But most of us daygrinders are moth-flamed to the usual bullshit: Subway, Kwik Trip, Culver’s. They’ve claimed the “prime” real estate on Commerce, while independent establishments like New Great Wall struggle for survival in empty strip malls on the far side of the sun.

So, this is a call to action: Upper North’s factory grinders / package schleppers should unshackle from dull-ass convention and step into the Garden.

In southern Minnesota, change isn’t exactly…embraced. But fear not, all ye camo’d and Carhartted! While it humbly boasts a bakery / bistro vibe from within its minimal square footage, it’s not finely tuned; it’s much more Grandma’s Kitchen than Hipster Crunchfest. The Garden isn’t flashy, and that’s the charm.

Hey, if you want to piss away half an hour’s pay on nuclear cold cuts and roller dogs and Monster Blood Poison and rock-hard cheese curds, that’s your business. But if you want to throw down on two sloppy joes AND mac and cheese on Wednesdays for five dollars?

You know where to go.

 

Number 4, We’ve Got A Problem

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We want to like you, Number 4 American Bar and Kitchen. But do you want us to like you?

By “us,” I’m referring to the enthusiastic gastrocrowd it halfheartedly courts. Number 4 was launched as Mankato’s first stab at high-end American fare–done so marvelously by Borough, Haute Dish, and other dually-hipster-and-family-friendly establishments in the Cities–but so far, its only successes have been financial.

Allow me to explain why that’s a bad thing.

For every good idea the restaurant throws forth, they do something completely asinine to negate the radness. Yet they get away with this ham-fisted halfassery for two reasons:

  1. It’s the most beautifully decorated establishment in town, and it’s not even close
  2. It’s grossly overpriced, and their core clientele–aging McMansionites that drive colossal SUVs and wear jewelry–will pay these ridiculous prices simply for the sake of paying them

Bizarrely, going to Number 4 is a status thing. Patrons don’t care that the service is mediocre and the menu is WAY too big for the chef to actually achieve something resembling consistent quality. They don’t care that tableside guacamole can’t make up for an inability to pull off a Cobb salad. They don’t care that a lengthy menu of $9 boutique cocktails is unable to obstruct an abysmal tap selection and a whiskey shelf with freaking GLENLIVET perched at the peak. They don’t care that the most exquisite bar-top in town is marred by an enormous plastic placard touting their BURGERFICATION Monday twofer deal.

But they certainly do care if any semi-washed, tattooed types–really, anyone aged roughly 25 to 35 that might look like they’re enthusiastic about something other than sports–invade their precious status bubble. The tension is palpable; I’ve been on the receiving end of open sneers, confused double-takes, and blatant mockery from other customers.

But really, the joke’s on them.

They think they’re experiencing high culture in Mankato, jangling their wristwatches and running up $200 tabs, when they’re really just buying in to a heartless, exploitative retread of Twin Cities cornerstones, set to a baffling soundtrack of “My Humps” and “Hollaback Girl.” In 2014.

But they embrace it unwittingly, ’cause that’s just Mankato’s style. Commerce kills culture, and enthusiasm is greeted with contempt.

(Number 4 does do a mean-ass, reasonably priced breakfast though, and you won’t have to brave the overly-douchey crowd. They don’t like to flaunt their wine hangovers in public.)


Get Red With…

Mahtowa Death March – “Pipe Bombs, Loose Morals, and High Fashion”

It’s not every day that you get tipped to a new Minnesotan band by a New Yorker (thanks for picking up my state’s slack, Kim), and it’s definitely rarer for that band to knife you right in the soulspot. This decade’s new-ish wave of black metal / crust hybrids has been crucial, and Mahtowa Death March enter the fray with a wicked-raw take bolstered by turbocharged sleaze. (Those solos!)

Think Midnight, Nekrofilth, and The Yellowgoat Sessions pushed through a superclogged Crepusculo Negro gutterfilter.

Tapes are five bucks and limited to 50, but spend three and do some filthy Northland Bandcamping.